Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Vulnerability in Writing

I've been writing a LOT lately, and I'm excited about the material that is coming out, the direction I see for possible books (plural, because I don't want to write just one, after all), and the small victories each piece presents.  I've been telling myself, You can't write about faith and poof! essays on faith (and other things).  And the "other things" are topics I've tried to write about before but have failed miserably, blathered on and on-- and then THIS happened and then THIS happened and I HATED this, I HATED it-- but now they are coming together, and I'm thrilled.

I think the work is good.  We will see.  I did have a short piece accepted by Brevity that will be published in the not-too-distant future (YEEEEEEE!!!!!).  It's called "Field Guide to Resisting Temptation," and I'm SO EXCITED and also SO ANXIOUS that it will be published and public.  As my dear friend said, "Talk about peeling your own skin off and creating art from the raw desire/confusion/humanity/desire/desire/desire beneath its surface. Lifting it to the page, to light, to awareness," which makes me feel a little better, but yeah, peeling your own skin off.  That's pretty accurate.

But that's what I love about good writing - the writer willing to bear witness, even if that artist is bearing witness to the dark interior of her own heart, displaying her own weaknesses, fears, anxieties, doubts, and desires - because that kind of a witness has the potential to be life-giving.  At least that's been my experience in both writing and in life - when a friend has been willing to lower her guard and be vulnerable, to show the red squishyness of her insides, it has been life- and relationship-changing.  

It's a short little thing to be giving me such fits.  I promise I won't chicken out.  I will post a link to it when it goes live.  Eep.  

In other news, I'm off to the In Print Festival at Ball State University tomorrow to represent River Teeth and the Ashland Poetry Press as Managing Editor, and then to visit a friend's class at Taylor University on Thursday.  This trip has been made possible by a set of friends who are taking care of our three children overnight, a set of childless friends who may find that they never, ever want to have kids after watching ours.  I'm only kind of kidding.  Pray for them ;)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Instructions for Crazy

Who is that crazy person in my last blog post?  Woah.  She's crazy, isn't she?

She hasn't completely moved out, but I think I've at least stashed her polka dot and pinstripe clown suit in the closet for a couple of days.

AWP was restorative.  I slept a lot, ate good food, and had great conversation with some amazing women and a few good men.  I sold books and talked about writing and reading and slept.  Sunday morning, I ordered breakfast in bed and wrote for three hours until it was time to check out and fly home.  And then I played with my children and saw my husband who was not a mirage but the actual thing in flesh and blood not tucked in skype or my phone but the real deal, and it was very good.

The crazy person in me still feels a little unstable, still cries easily and flinches when something unexpected happens.  My eye still twitches.  But we have a few strategies to manage her now, I think.  Here are your instructions, Crazy:

#1: Take life cut into triangles drizzled with maple syrup.  If you try to jam that big of a piece in your mouth like that it'll make you gag and that's just gross, so cut it into bite-size pieces, and make sure it's sweet.  Get up fifteen minutes earlier, for God's sake, and slow the morning down a smidgen.  Start the day with a Word so it sticks to your hips like the pancakes.  Get everyone off to their respective destinations, and then breathe because you're at the day job and the day job has manageable to do lists, meetings, phone calls, goals and instant gratification.  The work day does what it's told and doesn't talk back because you're the boss (well, of your work day, anyway) and that's what work days do, they do what they're told, that's right uh huh you know it.  Then return everyone to their destinations of origin for food (home-cooked if you're able, and if not, don't beat yourself up, they won't die from that cheeseburger... at least not today), baths, and bed.  Try to make bedtime stories and prayers and songs happen.  Try.  And then breathe again, take a few hours to drink a glass of wine, write, read, and listen to quiet music.

#2: Sneak in some exercise here and there because you know how good it feels to get a good sweat on.  Even if it means skipping your lunch break to get to the gym, do it.  Just do it.  You can even drop the crew off at the childcare station after work, even though you feel guilty about all of this childcare but hey, better to have a sane mom some of the time than a crazy one all of the time.

#3: Be content with adequate for once.  Be content because nobody is impressed with 150%... they think you're crazy AND YOU ARE.  Those looks are pity, not awe.  Those looks are, dude, you're crazy.

#4: Cancel the spring soccer practices and games.  No one is going to miss it, not even for a minute, and baseball is right around the corner, when your husband's crazy schedule loosens up, and you won't have to tote the gang into the rain on Saturday mornings alone.  Lyd might be sad for about ten seconds and then she'll be over it and on to coloring and dancing and laughing and light.

#5: Don't substitute another weekly activity for the one you just cancelled, i.e., no swimming lessons, gymnastics practices, dance, ballet, tap, piano, karate, etc. you crazy person just let it go so you can enjoy your children for more than the minutes they are sleeping silently in their beds.

#6: The laundry can wait until Saturday.

#7: The dishes can wait until... there aren't any more clean ones.

#8: Don't shut down and shut out your friends and family, even though it's tempting to hole up, burrow in, and battle through alone, even though it feels safer and warmer under these covers.  Coffee is good.  Wine is better.

#9: Even though he's on the road and working, call and text your husband, who loves you and misses you, and believe it when he says it because it's true and you know it's true that this is just a season and crazy will end one day in the foggy not-so-distant future that feels a million years from here.

#10: Read instead of watch TV.  Write instead of scroll through Facebook.

#10: Sleep, you dimwit.  You need it.  After all, you just made two #10s.


For fun--

What I'm Reading: Grace Notes by Brian Doyle (which is awesome. read it.)
What I'm Writing: a lyric essay on miscarriage, which is so inspirational I can hardly stand it.
What I'm Drinking: the last of a bottle of merlot and a large cup of water.
What I'm Listening To: Norah Jones, "Painter Song"

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The First Step Is Admitting You Have a Problem

"There is more to life than increasing its speed." - Mahatma Gandhi

I leave in the morning for my annual trek to the AWP Conference, this year in Boston.  I'm leaving with my homework done for this week, a packet submitted for the program, "spring break" for school waiting after the trip, four manuscripts formatted and sent to print in February, a grant written and almost submitted, all of the laundry in the house done, dishes washed, fridge stocked, living room and dining room vacuumed and clean, and all of my children healthy.  I've got my son home from Akron Children's Hospital after discovering a FREAKING KIDNEY STONE on Saturday.  A KIDNEY STONE.  In a FIVE YEAR OLD.  Why, Universe, Why?

I've also finished several glasses of wine.

My husband is supposed to fly in tonight from Baltimore to Cleveland, but it's delayed, hopefully not cancelled.  I need to leave the house at 5 a.m. to go to Boston from Cleveland.  If he's cancelled, he's arranged for a friend to come over to be with the kids so I can leave.  Which is helpful.  At least there's a contingency plan.

My eye won't stop twitching.  It's been doing it for weeks now, and it's really starting to drive me nuts.  I feel a little bit like Meryl Streep in It's Complicated, holding my eye lid up with my finger all day.

I need this trip, even though it is work and I have about fifteen different responsibilities while I'm there, I need this trip to try to regain some sanity, to try to slow down for just a second and not feel guilty for not doing something I should be doing.  Like right now, I should be putting the clean clothes away.  I should be sweeping the kitchen floor.  I should be reading through the school newsletter so that I know what's going on with Lydia's class.  I should know something about what's going on in my kids' school lives.  I shouldn't be blogging.  I shouldn't be whining.  I should just get over it, suck it up, like I've been doing, and stop making such a big deal out of it because it isn't a big deal, right, right?! RIGHT!?

Only I'm so tired.  I can't sleep, though, because if I sleep I'll dream about flies hatching from underneath my fingernails, like last night.  If I sleep, I'll miss my alarm and miss my plane.  If I try to go to sleep before I'm thoroughly worn out I will lie there and catalog whatever it is that is left to do on my to-do list that I'm ill prepared for or certain to forget about in the morning.  Better to Google, "How to know when you're having a nervous breakdown."  Better to watch Harry Potter #3 and drink another glass of wine and eat another piece of dark chocolate.

I want to quit everything.  I want to quit, to quit, to quit, burrow under my blankets and stay there until the Universe remembers that I am its center and it should do exactly as I tell it to, like we've discussed several times before, but noooooo, the Universe ignores me and does whatever the heck it wants.

I didn't work today because of the whole five-year-old-in-the-hospital-for-freaking-kidney-stones episode, which actually allowed me the space and time to reassemble the house that exploded on Saturday with unfolded/crumpled clothing and dirty dishes from Saturday from the dinner I made but didn't eat because of the kidney-stone-episode.

Let me pause in my ridiculous four-year-old tantrum that I'm throwing to tell you how incredibly grateful I am for so many friends and family members who came to the rescue with prayers and help with kiddos this weekend.  I don't know what I would have done without you.  Really.

And that's what it might boil down to, right there, that's what this all distills down to.  I know I'm not alone, but I feel so alone.  I don't want to ask for help because I'm always asking for help, but if I don't ask for help my eye twitches more and my heart starts to race and my hands start to shake and I start bawling my eyes out like I'm doing right now sitting in my kitchen sobbing like a four-year-old that's denied his ice cream cone.  I feel guilty for asking for help because I should be able to DO THIS, it isn't that hard, what's so hard about working and taking care of your kids and doing a little reading and writing here and there?  What's the big deal?  Why can't I keep it together?

I don't know what to give up or let go in order to regain some semblance of sanity.  And because I don't know what to give up, I want to quit it all, to say goodbye to work and to school, to retreat into my house and leave only to get my kids off to their respective schools, buy groceries, and go to yoga when I can because I need someone to remind me to breathe.  

But, like I've said a thousand times before on this blog, I am not a four-year-old who has been denied an ice cream cone.  I am a wife.  I am a mother.  I am a faithful employee.  I believe in my work and my family and my marriage and my God and my writing, and I know what I do is good and right, and I need to keep doing it, even though right now I'd like to curl into the cave.  This is what we do.  We keep on going.  It's only one really, really, really, long season.  It has to end sometime.

So, *deep sigh* I will finish this post, switch the last load of laundry, refill my wine glass, turn on something light and funny, or Harry Potter #3, and stop thinking for a while.  Whatever I forgot to pack can be purchased in Boston.  They actually have stores there, so no big thing.  And, if I do miss my alarm and miss my flight, hey, guess what, they fly more than one airplane to Boston.  Perhaps the hardest thing about this mini-mental-breakdown season of my life is that I know it isn't futile.  I know there's hope and an answer to the busyness, and I know that part of my problem is pride--I am proud of keeping this life balanced precariously on the edge of sanity.  Look at me, I'm doing it, I'm surviving!  But I don't want to just survive.  I want to thrive.  To live a life of contentment, as recommended by the good ol' Solomon in Ecclesiastes:
"Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works.  Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head.  Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.  Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.  I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all.  Moreover, man does not know his time: like fish caught in a treacherous net and birds trapped in a snare, so the sons of men are ensnared at an evil time when it suddenly falls on them" (9:7-12)

Perhaps the only real crisis will be if I don't hurry up and refill this wine glass.

Tomorrow is a new day with its own worries, and thank God, thank GOD, THANK GOD His mercies are new every morning.  He is faithful, even if his faithfulness appears in my mind like Trace Adkins shaking his head and singing, "You're gonna miss this, you're gonna want this back, you're gonna wish these days, hadn't gone quite so fast, these are the good times, take a good look around, you may not know it now, but you're gonna miss this."  I am grateful for the myriad ways He has been merciful.  God, not Trace.  Although maybe Trace Adkins is also merciful, I don't know.